The Dark Warrior (Overlord #2)

Title: The Dark Warrior

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #2

Momonga (now Ainz) is fully aware of his own lack of knowledge about the world he now inhabits. He’s still uncertain how much his former-NPC’s loyalty can be trusted, and the world contains things both from the game Yggdrasil and things he’s never seen before. So Ainz goes undercover as the dark warrior Momon. Together with one of his battle maids, they pose as adventurers in the hopes of learning more. But other plans are afoot in the city, and Ainz may have inadvertently tripped over a few of them . . .

For those coming from the anime, this novel was adapted in episodes 5-9. Again, the adaptation was faithful and the differences are minor (although my favorite addition was the extra information about just what Ainz did with that Jewel of Darkness).

Once again, Momonga/Ainz is proceeding into the world with extreme caution, even though he’s so high leveled that he can afford to seal away most of his magic and simply wave swords around and still be stronger than pretty much any human adversary. But the fun, of course, is in watching HOW everything plays out. The plot really likes putting him in embarrassing situations as well as situations where he can show off.

For example, ogres. Ainz can dispatch ogres with a single blow. His technique is terrible, but his strength allows him to ignore the basics any actual warrior would know. Ainz knows this and is uncomfortable at the amount of awe his “mighty deeds” generate, because to him, ogres that low-leveled would never pose a threat.

This gets even funnier when Ainz decides to challenge the Wise King of the Forest, hoping for a faster way to spread his renown.

Here, too, Momonga’s inner loneliness comes through a little better than the anime. He’s hurting for the friends he used to have, which he sees reflected in a small party of adventurers he teams up with for a time. Their camaraderie reminds him of what he lost and wants to have again, and spreading his name is a way of crying out for them to notice that he’s still here, waiting for them. It’s a little sad he can’t take Touch Me’s example to heart and go out and befriend others, even if they are weaklings, but his paranoia about keeping himself, his former NPCs, and Nazarick safe precludes any overtures.

I like how the game world details keep coming, and also how the various techniques and abilities that pop up show that this is NOT the game Momonga played. That leaves him with plenty to discover (and plenty of new things to embarrass himself with, I’m sure). Again, for those who liked the anime, this is a great way to dig deeper into the world, and to see some of the technical explanations about spells and so forth that never made it to the screen. The book also contains several nice pieces of art on the interior. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Undead King (Overlord #1)

Title: The Undead King

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #1

Momonga has one pleasure in his working life: the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil, where he and a group of friends created number nine of the top-ten guilds, which they called Ainz Ooal Gown. But that’s over now. The guildmembers themselves have mostly quit, and the game is shutting down at midnight. Momonga is the only one of the four remaining who decides to stick it out right up to the very end. And then . . . the end looks a lot different than he expected. Now he’s become his character from the game, the NPCs are alive, and their dungeon Nazarik has been transported to unknown lands. Momonga has no idea what to do, but the former NPCs are convinced he’s the Supreme Ruler . . .

First, for those who watched the anime first (or who intend to watch the anime in the future), this book was episodes 1-4, although the events are arranged slightly differently. It’s otherwise a faithful adaptation, but the book provides additional worldbuilding.

I liked this way more than I expected. Normally “trapped in a game world” is not my thing, but this series has a couple of unusual differences that made it really work for me. Momonga’s not desperate to get out, for one. Yggdrasil WAS his life, or the only part of it that really meant anything to him, and he writes off the “real world” pretty quickly. What he does want is to find his friends and former guildmates, and he holds on to the hope that some of them might have come to this world too.

Another fun subversion is his character itself. Momonga played an undead skeletal caster: an evil sorcerer. He was by no means a heroic character. And now that this is ACTUALLY him, the only morality he can hold on to is based on tenuous supports like “I don’t want to let down the memories of my friends” rather than standards like good and evil. He’s more worried about letting down the former NPCs (or losing their loyalty) and less worried about whoever gets killed or tortured in front of him or even for him.

Momonga’s sheer power also makes him a lot of fun to follow. In his heart, he’s still mostly an ordinary human (at least for now), and he’s keenly aware that he has no real backup other than the NPCs. So he reacts to situations as though everything is capable of killing him . . . only to usually find out he’s read the clues all wrong. The fight at Carne village is one of my favorites of the series so far because it does a great job showcasing both his nervous disposition and how he reacts to arrogant enemies. Momonga is big on experiments . . .

Overall, even though I’m not too fond of some of the more fanservice-oriented elements, I had a lot of fun with this. If you’re curious about the series, it may be easier to check out the anime first, as that’s available for free streaming, but even though the book covers the same material, the additional worldbuilding and character details is definitely worth it. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Overlord (Anime)

Title: Overlord

Episodes: 1-13

Momonga has been a long-time player of the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil. But the servers are shutting down, his guild has more or less dissolved, and he’s left to wait for the end alone. But the shutdown doesn’t work the way he expected: he’s now living in his undead avatar, with the NPCs turned sentient, and an actual world that only somewhat works like the game he used to know. In Yggdrasil, Momonga had max level, great items, and a solid team at his back. Can he continue as the Overlord of his guild in this new world?

I’m not a big fan of the “trapped in a game” scenarios (it’s just a halfhearted attempt at “transported to another world” to my mind), but this is the second show I’ve gotten into solely because I liked the opening song. “Clattanoia” is a lot of fun. And I was surprised that the story was actually a lot more to my interests than I had expected. Momonga isn’t some upstart with something to prove, or a man desperate to return to his former life. If anything, he just wants his old guildmates to join him, and he works hard to protect the place, NPCs, and memories they left with him. It’s really fitting that he’s an undead, as I think that’s another symbol that he can’t move on (it’s also hysterical that he completely breaks the convention of being handsome, and has to hide his real face in public lest people flee in terror).

Part of the fun is the intersection between the gaming world and the “real” world. There’s a good dose of gaming humor thrown in, like a guild member named Touch Me (who has a much better reputation than his name suggests), the names and types of some of the spells cast, or how HP and MP apparently are still a thing, at least for the formerly-Yggdrasil entities, and so on. And Momonga isn’t coming at this as a newbie, either—as the title implies, he’s starting from the top. It’s kind of a fantasy-flavored One Punch Man, although Momonga actually does have one opponent that can put up a decent fight. And if other players came along, which seems very likely given the end, then he’s likely going to be dealing with them at some point in the future.

I laughed pretty hard at most of his earliest encounters with outside people because he’s repeatedly toning himself down and still overwhelming everyone (this is almost funnier on a re-watch, when terms like fifth-tier magic have enough context to be meaningful . . . Momonga complains people die to “only” a fifth-tier spell when the maximum level humans can cast is third-tier). Or Momonga being embarrassed by things that others find amazing, like the Wise King of the Forest. And the scene where we finally get to meet the NPC Momonga himself created . . . (I do wonder what kind of powers it has, since most of the NPCs seem to be full of their own flavors of nasty surprises…. but that seems to have been a guild trend).

Yet Momonga’s tremendous power is balanced by his (completely reasonable) caution. I think the last fight actually did a great job of demonstrating why: even though he’s strong, he’s still got the class limitations he would’ve had in the game, but he no longer has others of different classes but similar level to watch his back. So running into another player or even just a high-level item in the hands of someone hostile could put him in danger (I do wonder what will happen when his cash shop items run out, since there’s no way he’s going to be able to restock some of the tricks he needed to use pretty liberally to win that encounter).

The art is pretty good but not amazing, and the CG is pretty noticeable. I didn’t think it detracted much from the show, though, as most of the CG is reserved for the undead, so it wasn’t as distracting as it would have been on characters. I’m also not fond of some of the shenanigans that went on with Albedo (Momonga changes her programming in the last minutes of the game so she’s deeply in love with him), but Momonga taking on more and more of his undead persona quickly kills the lust on his side, so after the first episode, he doesn’t do much to encourage her. It’s also fascinating to watch the slow shift in his personality—from someone who thinks mostly like a human, to someone who can casually kill people just for being in the way (and then take their corpses back to practice necromancy upon).

Overall I had a lot more fun with this than I expected. I watched both the sub and the dub and both are solid performances. I honestly don’t even have a favorite—Momonga’s voice in particular is great in both (he’s got a trick where his “official” voice is a lot deeper than his “normal” thoughts). I do hope a second season shows up soon as there is a lot that could be done yet with the characters and the world. I rate this show Recommended.

Alexander’s Army (Unicorne Files #2)

Title: Alexander’s Army

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #2

Michael was hoping joining UNICORNE would allow him to find out more of what happened to his father. But answers are few, and UNICORNE has another mystery they’d like him to investigate first. A comic shop has some weird things going on, and they want Michael to check into it. He’d rather deal with Freya, or his own powers, or his dad, but he reluctantly agrees. But he’s not actually very good at the whole undercover operative gig . . .

I finally figured out what my biggest problem was with this book: I don’t like any of the characters. Michael was fine in the first book, where his weird reality-bending powers kicked in on a regular basis, and he was being eased into a world beyond the world he knows. But in this one, he’s downright terrible at figuring out anything, his powers activate less often (and the book kind of cheats by having a different power take center stage), and there isn’t any real progress made on most of the continuing plot threads.

Michael doesn’t really WANT any of the missions or adventures he’s involved in, and he’s pretty much incompetent at running them too. Freya went from sympathetic to cold and harsh (and though she tries to explain it away, it still doesn’t make the book easier to read). I sort of get the impression the two of them are supposed to eventually become boyfriend/girlfriend for real, but there’s nothing THERE. At this point he’s helping her mostly because he’s got a giant guilt complex about how she died and he inadvertently made her live after death.

Aside from that, the plot definitely veers closer to horror/thriller territory (I was hoping for more of an adventure, because the first book set up what could’ve been a couple of different directions). Although I liked the unusual bits of the supernatural that showed up this time, I can’t help but feel there’s never going to be a point. Michael isn’t offered any kind of framework other than “stuff just happens, and sometimes it’s wacky.” Since he’s not digging into other people’s powers or his own, just trying to get out of whatever he’s been volunteered for this time, I wasn’t as interested.

This isn’t necessarily a bad book, just not for me. I’m not certain at this point if I’ll make it through the third book, but I may give it a shot since I have it on hand. Perhaps if it is the last one Michael will man up and actually do something instead of forcing everyone around him to push him forward. I rate this book Neutral.

The Broken Window (Threshold #3)

Title: The Broken Window

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold #3

Prissie’s adventures with the angels around her town are starting to get a little more serious. She’s finally understanding more of the spiritual battle they are engaged in, and seeing that the fight isn’t an easy one. In her more ordinary life, too, things are growing more difficult. Rumors abound, and her friends are actively distancing themselves from her. Christmas is around the corner, but what kind of holiday is waiting for her?

Fair warning: if you’re reading this WITHOUT book 4 on hand, put it down until you can get them both. That ending was amazing and cut off way too fast, with all sorts of consequences that are bound to play out in amusing ways. Unlike the first two books, the story doesn’t feel more or less settled by the end, either.

I liked that Ransom finally got a straight answer out of Prissie for why she hates him so much. And what that reason actually is. It’s just as surprising as a lot of the ordinary things that have happened so far, with Prissie coming to realize herself her reason is basically poor. And Ransom is very much game to try to break her out of her bad attitude. I love his sense of humor.

And Prissie finally gets her act together and does what various characters have been hinting she ought to do for a long time: pray. It’s a sobering challenge to her in the first book that pointed out she isn’t interested in the suffering of people (or angels) she doesn’t know about. Even when she learns more, she still neglects to pray, until finally she’s confronted with something she can’t deny. I have my suspicions about how this will all play into her choices going forward (and I’m almost positive her Aunt Ida will help). It’s as big a moment for her as Ransom’s big decision is for him.

I’m liking this series more and more with each book. Especially with the way this one ended, I can’t wait to get the next one read. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Hidden Deep (Threshold #2)

Title: The Hidden Deep

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold #2

Prissie Pomeroy is still getting used to the fact that she knows several angels. But her life has been changing in other, not-so-welcome ways. Her best friend has found a new best friend, and that person hates Prissie. Ransom, the boy she can’t stand, is also someone she increasingly can’t avoid. Ephron, the missing angel, still hasn’t been found. And the enemy is certainly up to SOMETHING . . .

Most of what I said about the first book is also true for this one. It’s more of a quiet story of everyday life with angels. This book continues to progress through the year: the start of school, the apple harvest, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and so on. It’s fun to see the Pomeroy traditions for each of those, and a few extra events like dinner with all her angelic friends. That’s not to say it’s entirely without action, but the battles clearly aren’t the heart of the story.

I like how the story also isn’t shy about presenting Prissie in all her flaws. Ransom continues to be the most compelling human, someone who would dearly like to know why Prissie is dead set against him, yet not all that interested in being either her friend or her enemy. He just wants to have at least a tolerable relationship so that his employment with her father won’t cause them to butt heads.

And I was very happy the guess I made about a certain character from the first book turned out to be right. Angels aren’t the only ones interacting with Prissie on more than one level . . .

All in all, if you liked the first book, this feels like the next couple of chapters for that story. I rate this book Recommended.

Seeker (Riders #2)

Title: Seeker

Author: Veronica Rossi

Series: Riders #2

Daryn is haunted by her greatest mistake: the conflict that severed Gideon’s hand and thrust Bastian into a world that only she can enter. She has to go back. Has to make things right. But she’s totally unprepared for what’s waiting . . .

Gideon is frustrated at Daryn’s reclusiveness. ALL the Horsemen want to go after Bastian (and messily dismember the demon who went with him), and Daryn won’t clue them in. But they’re searching for her. And once they find her, they’re going after Bastian.

As much as I loved being with these characters again, this felt like a necessary conclusion rather than a story I liked as much in its own right.

The first book was a big favorite, so I’ve been looking forward to the sequel for months. I didn’t want to believe Bastian was doomed to “probably dead in a horrible way” as part of the bittersweet ending to the first book. And I wanted to see more of the Horsemen being awesome and wrecking stuff, or otherwise goofing off with each other, or digging into their personalities more. There was a little of that, but most of the book was so heavily focused on hooking up Daryn and Gideon, and the rest of the plot didn’t go far enough into some of the more interesting ideas it started to explore.

This was still funny. Well, Gideon’s portions were funny. He’s still got that bit of a smartass to liven things up, and there’s some great mini-stories about various misadventures he had with Bastian. Which is a great contrast to the general heaviness of the overall book. Daryn is more depressive, but sometimes she’ll observe something hilarious that the others are doing or saying, but I definitely preferred Gideon’s point of view.

And there were still interesting bits. I found it fascinating how Gideon refers to being War as a VICE, something he has to struggle to overcome. At the same time, I thought the pocket world could have done more to push them through that. As it was, the only character growth I could see was what had happened in the first book (I’m not counting him and Daryn staring intensely at each other and being swept away by “I want you.”). Daryn has a lot more development, for sure, but I felt a little let down by her wanting to go back home to her family. That needed to happen to close out the threads from the first book, but I didn’t care for how it actually worked out (although the aftermath was plenty amusing).

*** SMALL SPOILERS***
The fact that the actual going home was skipped, as well as it being such an easy reintegration, bothered me.
*** END SPOILERS****

I didn’t like how the pocket world limited everyone’s abilities. It helps add to the tension, but it takes away a ton of the fun. Rather than have a scary world where their powers are matched by equally scary Harrows, we get a bunch of restrictions on what can and can’t be done that make them little better than well-armed ordinary humans.

The romance, too, was kind of there for me. I really don’t care for these types of relationships, where it feels a bit more like two people crushing hard on each other, but at least there are things each of them can notice and pull out of the other. So there’s at least something of liking each other as people, and being a decent fit for each other. I did prefer the first book, though, since this one reverses the balance. Here, romance is a much stronger focus than the rest of the plot.

Overall, I was still happy to read this to get more of an ending, but I found myself frustrated at a lot of the directions the story went. I wanted more Jode and Marcus. I wanted more wrecking stuff in huge ways. I wanted Gideon to be more effective, and to be able to use his leadership. That said, this wasn’t bad, just not all I wanted it to be. Be sure to read Riders first, though, as this heavily depends on the previous book. I rate this book Recommended.